Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Velveteen Daughter: "Genius Touched with Madness"

The Velveteen Rabbit is a well known and well-beloved children's book by Margery Williams Bianco. That Margery's daughter, Pamela, was a child prodigy in art has been forgotten, but a new book by Laurel Davis Huber will soon correct this lapse of collective memory.

Huber's novel is compelling and affecting, the story of a girl who yearns for love. As in her mother's book, she seeks the love that will make her 'real'.

Margery and Pamela both speak in the novel, with chapters skipping back and forth in time in a paced revelation.

Pamela's father pushed her into the art world as a child genius; Margery tried to hold him back so Pamela would have a normal childhood, developing her talent organically. Pamela wanted to please her father. Her art was displayed when she was twelve; she was a sensation.

"This wonderful child," Gabriel D'Annunzio wrote after seeing a sketch she had done, aged eight, "whose name is like the name of a new flower. The drawings of a phenomenal girl artist are like flowers, delicate, fragile, wind-blown, sprung from the enchanted soil of fairy land."
When a girl she developed an attachment to Richard Hughes, a charismatic young poet who became close to the Bianco family. She created a fantasy that they would marry. When the much older Richard became engaged it caused a crisis for the emotionally fragile Pamela and resulted in hospitalization.

Over the next years her fixation on Hughes suffered many ups and downs until it became clear he had no intention of marrying Pamela. Hughes is known for his novel A High Wind in Jamaica.

While pursuing her art in New York City during the 1920s Pamela fell in with a young man and as a lark they married, resulting in a child, although they never lived together.

Pamela struggled with mental illness, causing great lapses in her artistic output. Late in life married and supported by her husband returned to art.

In the background is the story of Margery's sister and her disastrous marriage to Eugene O'Neil. Pamela encounters art world denizens including Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Whitney Vanderbilt.

Huber's meticulous research has resulted in historical fiction that has great emotional appeal.

The Velveteen Daughter
Laura Davis Huber
She Writes Press
Publication Date: July 11, 2017
$16.95 paperback
ISBN: 9781631521928

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